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Broken Things by Lauren Oliver (1)

“Your physicals look fine.” Paulie bends over my file, scrubbing her nose with a finger. A big pimple is growing just above her right nostril. “Blood pressure’s great, liver looks good. Normal heart rate. I’d say you’re in good shape.”

“Thanks,” I say.

“But the most important thing is how you feel.” When she leans back, her blouse strains around the buttons. Poor Paulie. The residential director at Four Corners, she always has the dazed look of someone who just got into a fender bender. And she can’t dress for hell. It’s like she buys clothes for someone else’s body—too-tight Lycra blouses or too-big skirts and man shoes. Maybe she Dumpster-dives her whole wardrobe.

Summer used to do that: she got her clothes in bulk from the Salvation Army or just stole them. But she could make anything look good. She’d take an old band T-shirt, extra-large, and turn it into a dress, belting it with a bike chain and pairing it with old Chucks. Garbage fashion, she called it.

She was going to move to New York City and be a model when she turned sixteen, and afterward have her own fashion line. She was going to be a famous actress and write her memoir.

She was going to do so many things.

“I feel good,” I say. “Strong.”

Paulie adjusts her glasses, a nervous habit. “Six rehabs since eighth grade,” she says. “I want to believe you’re ready for a change.”

“Four Corners is different,” I say, dodging the question I know she wants to ask. Of all the rehabs I’ve been to, plus hospital detoxes, sober-living facilities, and halfway houses, Four Corners is the nicest. I have my own room, bigger even than my room at home. There’s a pool and a sauna. There’s a volleyball court on a bit of scrubby lawn and a flat-screen TV in the media room. Even the food is good—there’s a salad bar and smoothies and a cappuccino machine (decaf only; Four Corners doesn’t allow caffeine). If it weren’t for all the therapy sessions, it would be like staying at a nice hotel.

At least, I think it would be. I’ve never stayed at a hotel.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Paulie says. Her eyes are fish-big, wide and sincere behind her glasses. “I don’t want to see you back here in six months.”

“You won’t,” I say, which is kind of true. I’m not going to come back to Four Corners. I’m not leaving at all.

I like rehab. I like the whole routine of it, the clean rooms and the staff with their identical polo shirts and identically helpful expressions, like well-trained dogs. I like the mottos posted everywhere on construction paper: let go or be dragged; live and let live; have an attitude of gratitude. Life in bite-size portions. Miniature Snickers–sized wisdom.

It turns out that after a first trip to rehab, it’s easy to hopscotch. All you have to do is make sure to flunk a pee test right before you’re supposed to get out. Then counselors get called in; insurance companies, social workers, and relatives are contacted; and pretty soon you’ve got yourself an extended stay. Even now that I’m eighteen and can technically leave on my own recognizance, it won’t be hard: you’d be amazed at how quickly people rally together when they suspect their patient might have killed someone before she was even menstruating.

I don’t like lying, especially to people like Paulie. But I keep the story simple and pretty basic—pills and booze, Oxy I used to steal from my mom—and apart from the actual I’m an addict part, I don’t have to fake it too much.

My mom was on Oxy the last time I was home, since some idiot in an SUV rear-ended her when she was coming home from a late shift at the hospital and fractured her spine in two places.

I get nightmares, panic attacks. I wake up in the night and still, all these years later, think I see the bright burst of a flash outside my window. Sometimes I hear the hiss of an insult, a voice whispering psycho, devil, killer. Sometimes it’s Summer I see, beautiful Summer with her long blond hair, lying on the ground in the middle of a circle of stones, her face a mass of terror—or maybe peaceful, smiling, because the story she had been writing for so long had at last come true.

That’s one thing I don’t talk about here, no matter how many times Trish or Paulie or any of the other counselors push. I don’t talk about Mia, or Summer, or Owen, or Lovelorn and what happened there, how we believed in it, how it became real.

In rehab, I can be whoever I want. And that means, finally, I don’t have to be a monster.

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